Updated: Apr 11, 2019
Written By: Erica Street
“A Thousand Girls Like Me” review, featured at the 2019 Atlanta Film Festival:
An observational documentary chronicling a young Afghan’s woman’s fight for justice following years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse from her father— “A Thousand Girls Like Me” navigates Khatera’s complex and complicated family dynamics with her mother (also a victim of similar abuse by her husband, Khatera’s father), her children, uncles and brothers in a country where it seemed merely being born a woman was a crime.
Khatera’s daughter is her sister. Her son is her brother. And her father is her rapist. She would have birthed as many as five children by the age of 23 by her father. The documentary opens with Khatera at a check-up with her physician with plans to abort her baby but does not because was instructed by the Afghan courts to have the child as proof of her father’s crime.
This film was a deafening, courageous, sometimes debilitating account of how justice fails yet can prevail if time is a luxury. It’s one of the hardest stories to witness, and as an audience member, you never want to give up hope because you can feel the risks to her life, safety, and well-being in pursuit of justice. She’d risked so much just chronicling this pursuit to bring her father to justice. She gives birth and almost immediately sells her baby, but has reservations. Khatera ultimately gives her baby up for adoption, but quickly regrets the decision, and argues with the adoptive parents to bring her son back because he is essential to her court battle. She loves her son, just as she loves her daughter.
She moves from homestead to homestead several times in less than a year in the mountainous terrain, fleeing with her children and mother from her father’s brothers. Their threats of persecution, physical harm, and their vows to discredit her story and set her father free from prison leaves Khatera obstructed; at a moment, she even contemplates her suicide and killing her children to end the suffering. After months of intimidation by the Afghan judicial system, her family, and her father’s allies, she attends her father’s trial where the judge rules in her favor. The next step…leave Afghanistan with her children for good.
This is tricky. It’s hard to obtain passports for children without both parents’ signatures. Her children are her siblings, and her father has just been found guilty by an Afghan court and awaits sentencing in prison. So, rather than lie or even bring attention to the children’s parents’ names on the forms, she tells the passport office the children are her siblings (which they are). She’s successful in retrieving the documentation. Her legal counsel locates a women’s organization in France that will allow her and her children to claim asylum in the country. Khatera and her mother cannot continue to safely flee to different parts of Afghanistan to escape her father’s allies and other social anguish.
But is there ever any real justice for a situation so heinous? Even with physical escape, relocating to another country will there ever be a sense of relief or does guilt overwhelm Khatera? This all coalesced into one scene at the conclusion of the film:
It was meant to be a joyous occasion. After over a year of attempting to leave the country, Khatera received a phone call from her legal counsel that she would be relocating to France to live in a matter of a week. The director aims a question to her mother sitting by her side, but the camera remains on Khatera’s face and slowly pans in for a close-up. She had received and ended the call, and you can see that she wants to be jubilant that she’s finally free, but the guilt sets in before the joy ever could. She realizes that leaving Afghanistan means leaving her mother and brothers behind. She knows this opportunity means a better life for herself and her children, but she doesn’t want to leave her mother.
The closing credits featured a declarative update of Khatera in France followed by a reel of photos of her and her children’s growth. And then the waterworks begin.
This film broke me. And is another perspective of the international women’s social justice fight that needs immediate attention. It tackles the social commentary that persists in Afghanistan and in the United States and is a timely feature for the politics surrounding legal abortion statutes in the state of Georgia. This is a case example I’d introduce across the political ideological spectrum as a harrowing, heartbreaking, but empowering account of what happens when women are heard, are allowed to make decisions for their health and the well-being of their child(ren), and how broken systems can and should change to push humanity forward.
Women need to be heard.
Violence against women must end. Everywhere.
I hope this story transcends all our social/economical “-isms” and permeates to leaders who propose legislation politicizing women’s decision-making in the social circles of the New York’s and Los Angeles’ of the world, to the townships and homesteads in the most remote spaces of the planet.
We are not free until we are all free, and this one is a call to action.
Director: Sahra Mani
Writers: Giles Gardner, Sahra Mani Country: Afghanistan, France
Language: Persian (Farsi)
Runtime: 76 minutes
Erica Street's short bio:
Pistachio Jones is a Virginian living in Atlanta, public health researcher, and avid pistachio-eater and hiker who breathes the cinematic arts and sciences. She accredits her father for her love of film. As an adolescent, she rummaged through his film collection, which was eclectic and supremely diverse—from "The Royal Tenenbaums" to "Cooley High," from "Star Wars" to "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," it fed and challenged Jones’ perspectives of motion picture arts.
Jones accredits her mother for balancing her challenging upbringing by allowing her to jump feet first into the arts: violin lessons, ballet, and covering her bedroom walls with scores of 10-cent thrift store vinyl album covers as a way to express the flairs of her mind. Her allowance was to be creative + weird, and she cashed in too many times to count.
In June 2018, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative published a study “Critic’s Choice?
Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Film Reviewers Across 100 Top Films of 2017” examining the disparities in representation and solutions to address the racial, ethnic, and gender gaps in the film criticism space. The study found that only 4.1 percent of all film reviews across the 100 most popular films of 2017 were authored by women of color, and women accounted for less than 9% of all individual critics. “Pistachio’s Film Reviews” is a here to add a little juice to those rates and inspire others, especially the Othered, to create and fuel their passions.